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Spring Diary 2013

(Click on the images for a larger picture)

Kingfisher on Nene

After last year's dreadfully wet summer and a relatively cold winter, the last thing we wanted was a late, cold spring - but that is exactly what we got! Farmers who had to bring their livestock in last summer due to the damage they were doing to wet boggy pastures were hoping to get their animals back out to grass as soon as possible. Global cereal and oilseed prices had pushed the cost of purchased feed through the roof, silage camps were empty, but right up until mid- April there was virtually no grass growth in most parts of the country.

Snowdrops were still in bloom in my garden in the middle of April with little else in flower and as I write on the last day in April the hedgerows are just coming in to leaf.

Throughout all of March and most of April cold east and north east winds blew arctic air across our lands, turning the short grass brown and keeping hedges bare and wintry.

Then spring arrived in a rush. On the 13th of April the frogs finally arrived in my pond to spawn - in some mild winters they have even spawned in February and the celandine finally burst in to bloom. The local Swallows arrived on the same day, some 5 days later than last year and in many years I have seen Swallows before the end of March. I did not see a Sand Martin until April 14 when normally these are the first hirundines to arrive; usually in this area around the middle of March. No doubt all of these migrants were held up in southern Europe or even North Africa as Colin Cross in West Africa's only bird observatory at Kartong in The Gambia, reported normal northerly movements of Chiffchaffs as early as January and Willow Warblers in February.

So what impact has the late spring had on our wildlife? Insect emergence was certainly very late; my first butterfly of the year was a Brimstone in the garden on April 7th and even today on April 30th the sunshine is accompanied by a stiff cold easterly breeze.

Common Tern

I heard alarming reports from the North Sea coast of hundreds, possibly thousands of seabirds; especially Puffins washed up dead on beaches having lost their bid for survival in north Atlantic gales. Locally we are told of emaciated bats having emerged from hibernation after their fat reserves have run out, unable to find sufficient insect prey.

However despite being cold, it has been relatively dry so nesting birds should be having a better time than this period last year when many perished in the rains.

On a brighter note a trip up Northamptonshire's River Nene on our friends' motor cruiser coincided with one of our sunnier days in April. Here newly arrived migrants were much in evidence with a variety of warblers in full song and Common Terns were finding the marina's mooring piers made excellent perches, and who knows perhaps good substitutes for nesting rafts? Brimstones, Peacocks and a few Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies were everywhere and queen Bumblebees were prospecting for nest sites. The best sighting of the day was a very obliging Kingfisher which moved from perch to perch along the river in front of the boat occasionally permitting quite close views of this jewel of a bird.


BT Tower

You might recognise the tower in the picture sequence as the nesting site last year for a pair of Peregrines featured in an earlier Country Eye. Well this year, after an absence of a year, it is hosting nesting Ravens. Although they are relatively common in western and northern parts of the British Isles, here in the east they are a rarity, albeit slowly increasing. This particular pair have the assistance of a third adult bird, presumably the offspring from two years ago and at times all three birds have been seen carrying food to the nest site.

Peregrine looks down from nest tray




Adult Raven circling the tower


One of the adult Ravens





Despite the extra help only two young from the four that hatched from the eggs survived but as you can see from the photos on the day that they were ringed, on May 3rd, they look very healthy indeed.

Chicks are lowered down in a bag



Bob Sheppard BEM collects


Thanks to the BT riggers who climbed the tower to bring down the chicks and to Alan Ball and Bob Sheppard who organised and ringed the birds, we can now keep tabs on the fortunes of these rarities.

Alan Ball rings the birds


Ringing the raven chick


Chicks on the ground


A Bird in the hand



Who's a pretty boy then?


Ian Misselbrook
May 2013


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